In an application to practice medicine in South Carolina, former Duke researcher Dr. Anil Potti wrote that calling himself a Rhodes Scholar on his curriculum vitae was an honest mistake stemming from a cultural misunderstanding.
The once renowned Duke doctor resigned from the University November 2010 following accusations that he had exaggerated his credentials on grant applications. Potti, who joined a medical practice with offices in South Carolina after leaving Duke, wrote in his application to the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners that he was nominated for a “Rhodes Scholarship from the Australian Board” in 1995 while he was in medical school in India. Pottti wrote that the reason he later called himself a Rhodes Scholar was because he did not realize this was not “the real Rhodes Scholarship”—the prestigious program in which recipients study at the University of Oxford—because coming from India he was unaware of the difference.
“Please understand that I am not trying to make excuses,” Potti wrote in the letter Jan. 20, which was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and first published by The Cancer Letter, a publication run by Paul Goldberg, Trinity ’81. “I will be the first to admit that I made a mistake but only hope that you will see that it was an unintentional mistake and never done to gain unfair advantage.”
The full text of the letter can be viewed on The Chronicle’s website. This communication represents Potti’s only public rebuttal to the allegations because he has not spoken to the media.
The full story?
Potti wrote that he attached this letter to his application to the South Carolina Medical Board to be “completely transparent.” He was apologetic about the mistakes and called the situation embarrassing.
Duke, however, does not believe that Potti gave an accurate account of the University’s findings from its investigation of his curriculum vitae and biographical sketch.
At one point in this letter, Potti wrote that Duke concluded that the errors on his resume, which were not limited to the Rhodes Scholarship claim, were “of concern” but were “honest errors and did not constitute scientific misconduct.” The University contends that this was not the case.
“Duke does not agree with Dr. Potti’s characterization of Duke’s conclusions following the investigation of his CV issues,” Associate University Counsel Ann Bradley wrote in an email Jan. 3.
Bradley did not comment further on the matter. Provost Peter Lange—who led Duke’s review of Potti’s credentials and found what the University called “issues of substantial concern”—declined to comment, citing the school’s policy of not speaking about personnel matters.
Duke did explain its issues with this characterization in another recent incident. In November, the North Carolina Medical Board, which regulates medicine and surgery in the state, publicly reprimanded Potti for unprofessional conduct. In that instance, Duke disagreed with the board’s similar recollection of the University’s investigation.
Bradley wrote in a letter to the NCMB that the idea that the errors were careless and honest with no intention to mislead only applied to a specific part of the review in which Duke was trying to determine whether or not federal research misconduct had occurred.
“In fact, the inquiry committee evaluating the research matter also noted that ‘the sheer number of errors’ in Dr. Potti’s biosketches and CVs was a serious concern,” Bradley wrote to the NCMB in December. “To suggest... that Duke concluded there were some inaccuracies, all the result of carelessness and honest errors with no intention to mislead, is inaccurate.”
The board has since revised its reprimand to reflect Duke’s statement.
The other Rhodes
The “Rhodes Scholarship from the Australian Board” does exist, two individuals recently confirmed.
Gerry Donnelly, vice president for institutional research at the Canada-based First Energy Capital, and Keith Skene, a lecturer at the University of Dundee in Scotland, both confirmed in emails that they previously were recipients of the award.
The scholarship fund brings a student who lives in a Commonwealth country to Australia to conduct research related to a higher degree, according to information provided by on the University of Melbourne’s website. It awards up to approximately $20,000 to its recipient, which Skene said is selected every other year.
Skene noted that there is confusion between this award and the unrelated scholarship that brings students to Oxford. Many senior academics in Australia and a top professor from the University of Cambridge have, in his experience, referred, to the award as a Rhodes Scholarship, he added.
“Whether to refer to it as a Rhodes Scholarship or not was extremely unclear when I was the recipient,” Skene said. “It was only later that I discovered that this title could not be used.”
About 20 months ago, he wrote a letter to the scholarship organization to express concern over the confusion it promotes. Skene said he has not since seen efforts to clarify the situation.
David Cookson, the Melbourne academic listed as the contact person for the scholarship, is on leave and could not be reached for comment.
Confirmation that this award exists does not answer all questions regarding Potti’s Rhodes Scholarship claim.
In July 2010, The Cancer Letter broke the allegations that Potti had falsified his resume, citing numerous grants and biosketches in which Potti called himself a Rhodes Scholar followed with “Australia” in parentheses or “Australian Board” following the award. In those applications, many of which The Cancer Letter has published, Potti does not make it clear that he was a nominee and not a recipient of that award, though in his letter Potti wrote that he was a nominee.
Moreover, Potti wrote in the letter last January that the Ministry of Defense in India congratulated him on being “the nominee from India” for the award. It remains unclear what it meant for Potti to represent the country. Skene said that at least in the United Kingdom, there was no limit to the number of applicants who could apply. He added that he has no recollection of regional selection for the award but noted he could not confirm this definitively.